By STACY MILLBERG
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP - - The massive size of giant hogweed makes it desirable for arboretums and gardens, but its hazardous sap is what has caused growing concern across the county.
David Marrison, extension educator for the countys Ohio State University Extension Office, conducted a training workshop Monday at Saybrook Township administrative offices to educate folks on identifying and destroying the noxious weed.
"Anyone can have it in their garden or on the roadside," he said. "The big thing is identifying it."
Hogweed was first documented in Ashtabula County in 2004. It was first recorded in the United States in 1917 in an ornamental garden in New York, having been found in Europe since the 1800s, Marrison said.
Last year, hogweed was added to the Ohio Department of Agricultures noxious weed list. It is also on the federal list, making it illegal to propagate, sell or transport it. It was added to these lists because of its ability to spread and its potential hazards to human health, he said.
One giant hogweed plant can produce 20,000 seeds, allowing it to spread easily if not managed.
"Once its in an area, it can completely take over the area," Marrison said.
Its greatest danger, however, is the effect its sap has on humans. Furocoumarins in the sap can cause a skin reaction called photodermatitis. The condition causes skin to become hypersensitive to sunlight, resulting in damage to skin cells, he said.
"The skin absorbs too much ultraviolet light," Marrison said.
Swelling and blistering of the skin may occur, as well as permanent scarring. Contact with eyes can cause temporary, or sometimes permanent, blindness, he said.
The key to controlling this beast is identifying it early. The easiest way to identify hogweed is by its distinct stem, Marrison said. The stem on a hogweed always will have a green base. It is hollow and rigid with reddish/ purple splotches and course white hairs or bristles, he said.
The smaller the plant is, the easier it is to control. A young hogweed, out of the ground, will look like ground ivy. As it grows, it then resembles a maple leaf. The older the plant gets, the more it begins to stretch its leaves out. When the weed flowers, it can grow to be 15 feet high, Marrison said.
The hogweed flower is similar in characteristic to Queen Annes lace. There are numerous small white flowers, clustered into a flat-top umbel, which can reach up to 2 1/2 feet across. The main umbel will be in the middle, with four to five additional umbels that pop out around it, he said.
"This is a neat little flower if youre a horticulturist," Marrison said.
The weed begins to flower in late June to early July.
Chemical control strategies are the most common tool used to battle the weed. Hogweed can be eradicated effectively using chemicals, but multiple applications are usually necessary, he said. Glyphosate, more commonly known as Roundup, and triclopyr both have been shown to be effective. Roundup should be used with caution, though, as it is nonselective and will kill whatever it is sprayed on, Marrison said.
"A homeowner can control this," he said. "You have to identify it early."
Marrison said eradication is not a one-shot deal.
"The greatest threat to hogweed spread is from humans," he said. "Education is the key, due to ornamental curiosity."
Marrison said the weed is not selective in where it will grow.
"It will grow anywhere," he said. "Full sun, part shade, in and around trees - - Ive seen it grow anywhere."
It is important for individuals to wear protective clothing when working around unknown species. If an individual comes into contact with giant hogweed, they should wash immediately.
"Its the sap inside the stem that you have to worry about," he said. "Thankfully, it hasnt taken someone getting all these burns all over their arms for us to recognize it. If we can stop that from happening, then weve done our job."
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